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City Council fails to overturn Planning Commission's approval of conditional use permit for housing development

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council on a 4-4 vote Tuesday night failed to overturn the Planning Commission's approval of a conditional use permit for a low-to-moderate income housing development opposed by neighboring homeowners.

As a result of the council's vote, Mayor Les Heitke declared the Planning Commission's Jan. 9 approval of the conditional permit for the Westwind Estates Third Addition planned unit development in southwest Willmar stands.

Five votes were needed to overturn the Planning Commission's approval.

Council members voting in favor of a motion by Ron Christianson to overturn the Planning Commission's decision and deny the permit were Christianson, Cindy Swenson, Jim Dokken and Rick Fagerlie.

Voting against the motion were Doug Reese, Denis Anderson, Steve Gardner and Bruce DeBlieck.

A little parliamentary maneuvering was needed to get to the vote, which took place during discussion of the consent agenda when the council approves and accepts the minutes of meetings of various city commissions and committees, including the Planning Commission.

Gardner requested the Planning Commission minutes be pulled to seek clarification on conditional use permits, then moved to file the minutes, with DeBlieck seconding the motion.

Christianson said the Planning Commission's approval came on a 5-1 vote. He said the conditional use permit did not meet three of seven affirmative findings of fact required to approve such permits, and he said a presentation by homeowner Scott Thaden would explain why.

Heitke allowed Thaden to make his presentation. Thaden said the twin homes start in the middle of an existing block of existing single family homes. The twin homes will be much smaller than the existing homes, will have lesser value and will bring down values in the entire neighborhood.

Heitke also allowed a presentation in support of the project to be made by Rick Goodemann, executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton, the project's developer.

Goodemann said a housing study and marketing study showed housing was needed for persons with low and moderate incomes. He disputed the claim that the proposed development would reduce the values of nearby homes.

The 22-acre development is located about half a block south of Richland Avenue Southwest and is bounded by 16th Street Southwest on the east, 23rd Avenue Southwest on the south, and existing homes on the west.

The project consists of 34 units, of which 22 units are "lease-to-own'' twin homes, 6 are single-family detached homes for sale and 6 more are low-income rental units.

The lease-to-own portion allows homeowners to lease for 15 years, and then buy the house through a low-income tax credit. Only $66,000 to $75,000 would remain to be paid on the loan.

They would own the home but lease the land as part of the home ownership agreement with the Community Land Trust.

Heitke read seven letters of opposition and two letters of support.

During the nearly two-hour discussion, watched by more 60 people in the council chambers and others standing in the hallway, Christianson offered an amendment to remove the commission's action on the permit from the commission's minutes so the permit could be acted on separately.

The motion was approved 5-3 with Christianson, Anderson, Swenson, Fagerlie and Dokken in favor, and Reese, Gardner and DeBlieck against.

The council voted 8-0 to file the Planning Commission minutes, and then tied 4-4 on the motion to overturn the commission's approval of the permit.